Just a few years ago, Google+ seemed to be the social media platform to watch. Facebook and Twitter enjoyed a much brighter spotlight with far greater user numbers, but Google+ had something powerful neither of them could boast—the support of Google. The Google name has been a symbol of technological prowess ever since the search engine rose to near ubiquity, gracing highly practical, widely used products like Google Maps and Google News.
It made sense that a social network developed and supported by the web juggernaut would ultimately prove to be successful. For a time, Google Authorship — a key benefit of writing using a personal Google+ profile — made it seem as though getting involved with the platform would hold substantial SEO benefits. Even though those ripples were moderate and user numbers were subpar, many marketers heralded Google+ as a lynchpin for the future of social media. Unfortunately, those predictions turned out to be wrong.
The Google+ name is still around, but the platform is completely transforming. Two elements of Google+, the sharing of photos and live streaming video chats, are now being separated into their own areas known as “Photos” and “Streams.” Now being directed by Google’s own Bradley Horowitz, Photos and Streams appear to have no lasting association with the Google+ brand.
Judging by this move, it appears that Google will be slowly dismantling the entire Google+ service, attempting to compartmentalize what it originally envisioned as an all-encompassing platform. While the name “Google+” is still lingering around, the negative associations of the name will likely lead it to be done away with in the near future.
This comes after a long series of reductions in power of Google+. First, Google started reducing the amount of visibility given to Author profiles in Google search results, justifying the change as making search results appear “less cluttered.” Next, they got rid of Author Stats, a Google+ Authorship-based metric users were once able to see in Webmaster Tools. Last year, the founder and lead visionary for Google+ ended up leaving the company, and while he insisted his departure would have no bearing on the future of Google+, in retrospect it does appear somewhat related to the decline of the platform.
Why Google+ Couldn’t Cut It
In some ways, Google+ was destined for failure. The product itself was great—it worked well, it had solid support, and Google’s backing earned it a lot of initial attention. It just didn’t have what it took to become a lasting popular social media platform.
Similarity in Design
One of the biggest factors for Google+’s inability to catch on was its similarity in design to Facebook. From personal profiles, to individual timelines, friend networks, and post sharing capabilities, for all intents and purposes, Google+ was just an alternative version of Facebook. It looked different and had a different name, but it didn’t offer anything very different from Facebook from the average user’s perspective. The added SEO benefits and contact categories were nice, but to the billion people already using Facebook, Google+ wasn’t anything new or special.
Nomenclature and Design
The nomenclature used by Google, possibly intended to be a differentiating factor, was also very confusing for incoming users. Introducing terms like “Circles” and “Sparks” and not offering much in the way of explanation eventually led many new users to abandon the platform in favor of something more intuitive. The design of Google+ was equally complicated, hindering what would otherwise be a seamless user experience.
Another weakness of Google+ was originally intended to be a strength. The core platform offered far too many features for the average user to take advantage of—from photo sharing to messaging to hangouts and streams, it was impossible to categorize Google+ as anything. Instead, it was a giant amalgamation of different services—a kind of jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Compare this to the highly successful social app Instagram, which has a niche, specialized focus in user photography.
Google+’s lack of popularity actually led to an accelerated, further decline in popularity. The initial reputation of the platform was that nobody wanted to use it, and much like Internet Explorer, Google+ became the joke of the Internet. Had Google attempted a slower, stealthier rollout or had the platform enjoyed higher initial user numbers, this sharp decline may not have happened.
Google+ Lives On
Even though the name is still lingering, Google+ as we know it is dead, and there’s no bringing it back. However, Google is known for their commitment to user feedback and improving user experience; rather than abandoning their product, they’re listening to their users. They’re taking the best parts of Google+, making them better, and are rolling them out individually. In the end, Google+ will live on in the form of better, more intuitive products.